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A d i s c u s s i o n G u i d e

A Death-Struck Year
by Makiia Lucier

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are included with


the discussions and activities. CCSS can be found at
www.corestandards.org/the-standards.

Curriculum Connections
The following activities correlate to CCSS:
ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts,
to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and
information. 
ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained
research projects to answer a question. 
ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a
text and analyze in detail its development over the course of
the text.

English/Language Arts
Ask students to work with a partner to identify
the theme of A Death-Struck Year and to consider
About the Book how the author develops the theme throughout
For Cleo Berry, the people dying of the Spanish the novel. First, have students identify events or
Influenza in cities like New York and Philadelphia situations from the novel that are crucial to the
may as well be in another country—that’s how development of the theme. Then, using their list,
far away they feel from the safety of Portland, have students create a storyboard of the events,
Oregon. But then cases start being reported in including captions and explanations and the
the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and resultant theme at the end of the storyboard. Have
theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into each set of partners share and discuss with others
survival mode—and into a panic. Headstrong and in the class.
foolish, seventeen-year-old Cleo is determined to Science
ride out the pandemic in the comfort of her own
home, rather than in her quarantined boarding Much has been learned about infectious diseases
school dorms. But when the Red Cross pleads since the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1918.
for volunteers, she can’t ignore the call. As Cleo Ask students to research an infectious disease,
struggles to navigate the world around her, she including the known causes and cures. In their
is surprised by how much she finds herself caring research, students should also include (1) mode
about near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a of transmission and safety precautions that could
handsome medical student and war vet. Strangers inhibit the spread, (2) symptoms and prognoses of
who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies the infectious disease, and (3) statistics detailing the
begin to pile up, Cleo can’t help but wonder: when number of cases in various time periods. Students
will her own luck run out? should select an appropriate format to display and
share their research, such as a web page, poster,
A Death-Struck Year is based on the real-life video, or brochure.
pandemic considered the most devastating in
recent world history and leaves readers asking:
what would I do for a neighbor? At what risk to History
myself? As World War I was ending, the Spanish influenza
pandemic was beginning, and Margaret Sanger
was educating Americans about birth control. Ask
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A d i s c u s s i o n G u i d e
A Death-Struck Year
by Makiia Lucier

students to research an influential person from the “All the Men and Women Merely Players”
early twentieth century in the field of medicine, None of the characters expect his or her life to be
science, or technology, or a cultural icon who made changed so drastically. Ask students to select one
a lasting contribution to our lives. Have students of the major characters and, using support from
create a class mural and timeline discussing the novel, to write an analysis of that character.
and depicting the contributions of the selected Students should discuss the character’s personality
accomplished Americans. Display the mural and traits, show how he or she changes as a result of his
timeline in the classroom. or her experiences in the pandemic, and conclude
Social Studies with the “reinvention” of the character as he or she
makes new self-discoveries. Students should include
The American Red Cross aided thousands of
evidence and examples from the book to support
people who contracted the Spanish influenza. Ask
their analysis. Have students share in groups of
students to research the history of the American
four to five and, as much as possible, in groups
Red Cross and the work they have done to help
representing different characters.
others for more than one hundred years. Each
group should select a topic and research who, Quotes: Pearls of Wisdom
what, when, where, why, and how questions about The author uses universal quotes throughout her
their topic. Topics could include History of the Red book that apply equally well to situations from the
Cross, Volunteers, Training, Purpose and Goals, past and those from the present. Ask students to
Financial Support, Disaster Relief, or other topics select a quote from the list below and to write a
of student interest. Have students, as a class, two-to-three-paragraph explanation of how the
plan, organize, and conduct a “Celebrate the Red selected quote relates to the characters or the
Cross Day” as a way to acknowledge and give back world situation in 1918, citing specific passages in
to an organization that has consistently helped the book. Then ask students to relate the quote to
others. Students should use their research to the current world situation or their personal lives
create displays, presentations, dramatic readings, providing an explanation with specific support.
or other exhibits and should invite parents and Have students create a mini poster of their “Then
representatives from the Red Cross. and Now” understanding of the quotes. Display the
Writing Activities mini posters and explanations around the room.
The following activities correlate to CCSS: “I will either find a way or make one.”
ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., page 11
those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over
the course of a text, interact with other characters, and “Resolute in action, gentle in manner.”
advance the plot or develop the theme. page 13
ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing “He who is silent gives consent.”
in which the development, organization, and style are
appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.  page 13
ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9 Draw evidence from literary or “If one must die to be recognized, I can wait.”
informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and
research. page 14
ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1 Demonstrate command of the “War is sweet to those who never fought.”
conventions of standard English grammar and usage when page 14
writing or speaking.

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A d i s c u s s i o n G u i d e
A Death-Struck Year
by Makiia Lucier

“Every man is the architect of his own fortune.” day.” How was it all three? What emotions
page 14 does Cleo experience?
“Conscience is as good as a thousand witnesses.” 5. When Kate plays the piano, Cleo is ashamed
of the assumption that she made about Kate.
page 215
What assumption had Cleo made? On what
Making It Personal did she base her assumption?
Even before the influenza moves to Portland, 6. How does Cleo explain to Edmund the reason
Cleo and her friends read the stories about what she continues to help with the patients? What
is happening to people on the East Coast. Ask is Edmund’s response?
students to select a story about one of the people 7. How is Edmund’s reason for volunteering simi-
or families in Portland affected by influenza that lar to Cleo’s? How do their pasts affect their
Cleo tells the readers about. Then ask students to decisions?
write the story from the point of view of the victim
or one of his or her relatives. Have them practice 8. Why does Cleo lie to Jack about Mrs. Foster
and present their rewrites as part of a classroom coming home? What do Cleo’s lies say about
readers’ theater. her character? How do Jack and Lucy help Cleo
when they return?
Discussion Questions 9. What role does Hannah play in Cleo’s life?
The following activities correlate to CCSS: How does she help Cleo cope with death?
ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a How does Hannah help Cleo find herself?
range of collaborative discussions.
10. How does Cleo react to Kate’s death? What
ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and
helps Cleo recover from her grief?
supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically.
ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1 Demonstrate command of the 11. As Edmund and Cleo work together, their
conventions of standard English grammar and usage when relationship begins to change. How does their
writing or speaking. budding relationship help them both with the
heartache around them?
1. W
 hy does Cleo’s decision to leave school and 12. Cleo tells Hannah she is just ordinary. How
return home to stay by herself require cour- does Hannah prove to Cleo that she is extraor-
age? What does Cleo learn about herself as a dinary? What would you tell Cleo to prove to
result of living alone? her that she is extraordinary?
2. W hy do Cleo and others risk their lives to vol-
unteer in the hospitals? How does their lack
of medical training affect the situation in the
hospitals?
3. In Chapter 1, Cleo feels aimless, not know-
ing what she wants to do with her life. How
does the influenza epidemic lead Cleo to her
future?
4. O
 n page 93, Cleo says her first day of volun-
teering was an “awful, wretched, wonderful
Guide created by Susan Geye

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